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Manhattan of the Mayan World

Sent: 18 February 2001 20:09
Subject: Ancient Skyscrapers in the Jungle; Reflections

Back to cold London after a long flight from Guatemala passing through Miami and Madrid, the present and past capitals of Latin America (get the hint?).

My last day in Guatemala was spent on a day trip to Tikal, an ancient Mayan city in Peten, the northernmost departement (province) of Guatemala. To Peten's half a million inhabitants, most of whom have moved to this region only in the past few decades, this is a new frontierland, a kind of "Wild
North", where bandits are reported to be operating in the jungles and drug lords pass through on their way to the northern markets of Estados Unidos. Here the farmers become proud owners of the virgin land, away from the cold crowded highlands of the south. To the Mayans, however, this was where their ancestors once built one of the greatest of all Mayan cities, Tikal, although the ancient city state collapsed suddenly around 800 A.D. after a thousand years of glory. Here the ancients built temples more than 230 ft hight, the highest structures built before the Europeans arrived. 

I climbed up the highest of these skyscrapers, Temple IV, looking at the wide expense of tropical jungle stretching across to the far horizons, the silence broken by the cries of the macaw, monkeys, and who knows what animals - including possibly larger cats including pumas and jaguars. I imagine the silent mourning of the spirits of long dead Mayan lords, saddened by 500 years of suffering of their descendants, initially under the iron arm of the Spanish Conquistadors, and then later under the descendants of the invaders, i.e., Ladinos, who declared independence from Spain but nevertheless treating the Mayans as slaves in their own homeland. Peace has returned to Guatemala since 1997, and Mayans are regaining their pride and confidence. Ancient predictions say 2012 will be the year of redemption. That year will be the beginning of the 13th Katun. Katun is a period of 20 years, the Mayan calendar's standard "short cycle", and 13 is an auspicious number for the Mayans; hence the significance of the 13th Katun, or end of a 260 year cycle - equivalent in importance to our millennium). They say a Mayan will be elected president of Guatemala, thus returning rule to the majority Mayans. We shall see if this comes true.

The journey has ended but have sown seeds of the next, perhaps this time coupled with certain greater changes. All three countries are in the midst of transformation. 

Guatemala, a classic Banana Republic where the US had traditionally meddled in its politics, is emerging from 36 years of civil conflict, and an ancient
people experiencing a revival in their culture and traditions. 

In Cuba, a populist revolutionary regime overthrew the Banana Republic four decades ago but has in the process, like most revolutions, devoured its own children. The downfall of the USSR has led to the opening of the nation to international tourism, thus dividing the country into those who earns
dollars and those who don't, and in effect, marching gradually towards capitalism. Whatever it is, Cuba remains the only Latin America country
with full education and an excellent, working health service. What will happen when Castro goes ? Will its achievements survive ? Or will it
re-embrace the United States and re-enter Banana-Republic status ?

View from Temple IV

The glass towers and skyscrapers of Panama shroud a sad reality - that this is a country with a high unemployment rate and poor people. I hardly feel
safe in the country. Will the Canal be run as it was during the American days ? Perhaps this isn't important, as Uncle Sam always steps in when
things don't work out well. After all, this country owes its independence and landscape - whether physical or demographic - to the Canal.

At the start of the 21st century, all the talk of national sovereignty remains illusory, for America would not hesitate to restore Pax Americana in
its backyard. The Banana Republics remain effectively the same. The bombing of Iraq, so far from these shores, merely reinforces this belief.

OK. Next trip - a weekend in Dublin, in 2 weeks' time.


Wee Cheng

Guatemala celebrates the glories of Tikal on its banknotes View of Flores from the air Another banknote with Mayan features

A modern day painting of Mayan culture at Tikal Inn - fairly homoerotic, isn't it ? Lake Peten Itza Coatimundis running everywhere in Tikal

The Conqueror of Tikal ?

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